Healthy San Francisco: Julie Ward v. Crane

Unfortunately, I don’t have a great deal of information on this case.

From what I’ve read thus far, Julie Ward, an Assistant Manager at Crane & Company was terminated from her employment, according to Ms. Ward, in retaliation for requesting that her employer participate in Healthy San Francisco, the city’s universal care system. Crane Management denied the allegation but did not indicate the cause for Ms. Ward’s termination, only stating that Ms. Ward was terminated for a “firable offense”.

According to SFGate:

Ward began working as an assistant manager at the store in April 2007 and said she received nothing but praise from her boss.

The company offered private insurance, but Ward said the cost was exorbitant – about $300 a month out-of-pocket on top of pricey co-payments to see the doctor or get prescription medication. Ward instead found cheaper private health insurance.

The San Francisco Health Care Security Ordinance (HCSO) requires employers in San Francisco to spend a minimum amount on healthcare per employee. The requirements can be met in several different ways:

The employee health service choices employers may elect to satisfy Health Care Security Ordinance requirements include:

1. Medical, dental, and/or vision insurance;
2. Reimbursing employees for their health expenses;
3. Various types of medical spending accounts or
4. The “City Option”, which includes Healthy San Francisco and Medical Reimbursement Accounts

It’s really difficult to know who’s right here. On one hand, the company did have insurance available to its employees and, although it’s unclear at this point, the company might have met the per employee spending standard with such insurance. If Crane’s insurance plan did meet the per employee minimum, then Crane was under no obligation to provide the employees with alternatives.

On the other hand, Ms. Ward claims that she was terminated only 9 days after a very flattering anniversary note given to her by her manager.

Per SF Weekly:

On her first anniversary at the store on April 30, Ward says Blumenstein again turned down her request for contributions, so Ward e-mailed Crane’s owner in Virginia about her situation. According to Ward, Blumenstein informed her a couple of days later she was thinking of firing her; Ward told co-workers she planned to call the city’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement.

On May 9, Blumenstein handed Ward a terse letter that said she was fired — just nine days after she had written Ward an anniversary note stating: “You have become such a vital part of this store … I look forward to the coming year!”

The timing does seem a bit strange, but then again, we don’t have any, let alone all, of the facts. I do, however, caution managers all the time about giving employees letters like that. Not because they shouldn’t express their appreciation to an employee or recognize good performance, but rather because it can very easily become evidence in an employment case, particularly one in which the employee claims retaliation.

Either way, it looks like Ms. Ward is moving forward with her claim with Jeremy Pasternak as her attorney. From SFGate:

Pasternak has filed a civil suit in San Francisco Superior Court, saying Stanley Adams Retail, which owns the Crane and Co. store in the Embarcadero Center, fired Ward in May for pointing out to her bosses her rights to health care coverage under the city’s new universal health care program.

In the suit, Pasternak writes that Ward has suffered “shock, embarrassment, distress and injury, humiliation, emotional distress, stress and other damages” due to the firing.

I’m definitely going to keep an eye on this one. Even if it’s just to see if I can figure out what happened here.